Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bastille Day

Happy Bastille Day! Yes, I know it's on the 14th of July and not the 13th, but by the time all three of you readers read this it will probably be the 14th. I had our festivities a bit early because I already had plans on the 14th. And maybe since I'm writing this early someone might feel inspired to make a Bastille Day feast of their own? Peut-ĂȘtre?

And now, a petit history lesson. In France, it's more commonly called "le quatorze juillet" rather than Bastille Day (same as the 4th of July rather than Independence Day). This holiday celebrates the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, during the French Revolution. Vive la France!

Storming of the Bastille in the 18th century = reason for me to make a tasty dinner. I consulted many online travel guides, blogs, food websites, and a few other articles on what a traditional Bastille Day meal should be. There's not really one food that exemplifies this holiday, but I read about dishes like oysters, various sausages including merguez, frites, potato salad, tomato tart, seafood salad...I could go on. So here's what I decided on: grilled merguez sausages with white beans, herbed potato salad, green salad, and chocolate and vanilla pots de creme.

Merguez is a spicy lamb sausage from North Africa, but very popular in French cuisine. I was counting on Fox & Obel to have merguez, but I called that morning and they didn't have any. Zut alors! I went to Whole Foods instead, hoping for the best. No dice. However, the very nice man at the butcher counter said it wasn't too busy and he could make some lamb sausage for me. I didn't want to press my luck by requesting a lengthy list of specific spices, so I just asked him to make it spicy. Grilled for about about 10 minutes...perfection. Maybe not the authentic thing, but very good. I added some cannellini beans on the side.

That was actually the part of the meal I cooked last. Earlier in the day I started the potato salad. I wanted to do a different version than I made over Easter, so I found this one on Martha Stewart's website.

2 1/2 pounds fingerling or small new potatoes, halved (quartered if large)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, minced (2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 small red onion, sliced

Place potatoes in a large pot; cover with cold water by 1 inch and season generously with salt. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Run under cold water to cool slightly, then drain.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together oil, mustard, vinegar, shallot, parsley, and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes and onion and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature. (To store, refrigerate, up to overnight.)

As far as adjustments - I cut the recipe in half, used champagne vinegar instead of sherry (only because I already had it on hand), no red onion but extra shallots instead, and I used a grainy mustard.

And now for dessert. I've been eyeing this recipe for awhile now on latartinegourmande.com, a really beautiful website (also found on the right side of the page). I had a chocolate pot de creme at Crispo a year or two ago that really stuck in my mind, and once I saw a recipe for it I knew I wanted to give it a try.

2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/3 cup blond cane sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
50 g dark chocolate, 64 % cocoa
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

In a pot, pour the milk and add the vanilla bean and seeds. Bring to a boil and then stop the heat, cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. Filter.

In the meantime, melt the chocolate in a double-boiler and keep on the side.

Preheat your oven at 320 F.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk with the sugar, then add the hot milk slowly while beating.

Divide the cream in two equal halves, and add the melted chocolate and cocoa to one half.

Pour the vanilla and chocolate creams in small ramekins or jars — make sure to remove the foam that might have formed on top — and place them in a dish filled with hot water, so that they are half immersed.

Place in the oven and cook for about 30 minutes (for the chocolate creams) and 35 to 40 minutes for the vanilla creams. Check regularly after 30 minutes. The middle of the creams should still be moving a little — the creams will settle once they cool down. Take the jars or ramekins out and let them cool down. Place a plastic wrap on top and place them in the fridge to rest for a few hours before eating.

So...this hasn't been my week. I made a chicken tikka masala a few days ago that we won't speak of, and then something went a little awry with the chocolate pots. I suspect it was either that the melted chocolate was too hot for the cooled off milk when I added it (I didn't melt it at the beginning of the recipe, but right before adding it), or that the water I put in the glass dish wasn't hot enough. Either way, the chocolate pots had some separation in the middle - they were nice and thick and chocolatey on top, and when I put my spoon in it was liquidy and light in color in the bottom. Don't get me wrong...a chocolate dessert is still a chocolate dessert, so I mixed it up a bit and ate every last bit. The vanilla turned out fine. I'll definitely give it another try though.

All in all, a delicious French feast.

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